With three teams from three different divisions battling for the two Wild Card spots in the American League, many think the playoff race is unfair and are calling for MLB to go back to a balanced schedule.
While balanced schedules would be better for competitive balance, there is too much money riding on television contracts to ever let that happen.
How unbalanced schedules skewed this year’s playoff race:
With teams playing 19 games against each of their division rivals, nearly half of their schedule (72 of 162) is played within their division. On the other hand, teams play just 6-7 games against teams outside of their division.
As a result, the Rays, Indians, and Rangers have vastly different strengths of schedules. As Ken Rosenthal noted, the Indians were able to play nearly one-forth of their schedule (38 games) against two of the four worst teams in the AL (White Sox, Twins). The Rangers also played 38 games against two of the four worst teams in the AL (Mariners, Astros) and they are 14-2 against Houston with three games remaining.
Meanwhile, Jayson Stark pointed out on ESPN Radio that the Rays have 96 games this season against teams with a winning record and the Rangers have just 78.
Why balanced schedules are bad for television:
Balanced schedules put everybody on a level playing field except for the TV networks. More games against non-divisional foes means more games that are not played in primetime and fewer games in primetime mean lower ratings.
Have you seen the size of baseball television contracts recently? They are skyrocketing, and the biggest reason the value of MLB franchises has risen 51.6% in the last three years.
This is where the NHL is actually ahead of the other leagues. By going to divisions and conferences based largely on time zones, the NHL is ensuring that a maximum number of games are played in primetime.
So until North America switches to a single time zone, Major League Baseball will continue to use unbalanced schedules to ensure maximum television ratings and maximum television contracts.
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